Romeo and Juliet of the Village

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Ryan Vantine
German 1140W
3/12/13

Fun foreshadows the future; how Keller uses children playing to foreshadow the story

Gottfried Keller’s short story “Romeo and Juliet of the village” is very similar to other fables and fairy tales, a very peaceful setting followed by a conflict that leads to a worsening of the situation for all parties involved. Keller uses very rich vocabulary and his text is filled with many biblical references and allusions to other works of literature. While the reader can judge the ultimate outcome from the title referencing to the famous Shakespeare story, Keller chooses to foreshadow the final outcome very explicitly in one passage. The passage between Sali and Vreni with the doll begins as a childhood game that is found commonly between young boys and girls; Sali steals Vreni’s favorite doll and begins playing a game of keep away with it to antagonize his female counterpart. The game lasted quite some time, but towards the end the doll started to come apart at the seams and the dolls fillings start to pour out. Despite Vreni’s begging, the boy does not stop until the doll is completely empty. Keller uses this flirtatious passage more than to highlight the impending love between the children; he uses it as a metaphor for how their lives will turn out.

Before examining the text of Romeo and Juliet in the Village, it is important to analyze Keller’s choice of title and character names to get some background context for the story. Romeo and Juliet is obviously a reference to William Shakespeare’s tragedy in which two lovers can never be together because of family issues so they end up committing suicide so that they can be together forever. Keller names the main character of the story Sali, which is short for Salomon. This is a reference to King Solomon, son of David, who appears in religious works from religions such as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam among others. One of the most famous accounts of him is from the Song of Songs, also known as the Song of Solomon. The Song of Songs follows King Solomon and his bride, starting with their courtship and ending with their consummation. Vreni is short for Verena, an ode to St Verena who is the patron saint of the poor. Putting these biblical references together lets the reader know that this story will follow two poor lovers from the beginning of their love up until the culmination of their relationship, which given the title, the reader knows will be suicide.

When the doll is first introduced, Vreni dresses the doll up in leaves and flowers. Keller writes “for a minute or so the two jointly admired the strangely beautified dolly”. This part of passage represents the state of the children’s friendship at the time of the story, the children at a very young age. Both Sali and Vreni are described as healthy children with fine eyes. At the beginning of the story, their parents have yet to have quarreled so they see no problem with the two children befriending each other, and the author goes so far as implying that their friendship is beautiful.

Neither the doll nor the friendship between the children stays beautiful for long though. The field between Marti and Manz, fathers of Vreni and Sali respectively, becomes the point of conflict between the two farmers. The field has long since been abandoned, and lies unused and ownerless. The Black Fiddler is thought by many to be the grandson of the previous owner. At some point in time, the Black Fiddler’s kin gave up claim to the farm and became vagrants. Since the Black Fiddler is a hobo, he does not have any legal rights to claim the land. The farmers converse about how the Seldwylian councilmen plan on auctioning off the land. Manz makes a remark “A pity it is, all the same, that this fine soil is thus going to waste every year”, to which Marti agrees. One harvest after another, the two farmers plow a few additional furrows from the ownerless field taking this land for their own personal...
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